2:54 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. We were doing so well with our on-time briefings that we thought it was time for a change.
A couple things at the top. First, the Secretary met today with Iraqi Foreign Minister Dr. Fuad Hussain in the third meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, reinforcing the strong relationship between our two countries.
Secretary Blinken noted this was his first strategic dialogue since he’s joined as Secretary of State, and he noted that this signified how vital the relationship with Iraq is to the United States. It’s also why Prime Minister Kadhimi was one of the first foreign leaders that both President Biden and Secretary Blinken spoke with after taking office.
In support of this engagement, officials from our governments reviewed Iraq’s political, economic, and security situations and they welcomed parliamentary elections as important milestones for Iraq’s democracy. Our goal for this virtual session was to consolidate the progress we made in the previous two sessions and to translate our shared vision into a more detailed roadmap for strengthening our partnership going forward.
I would refer you, of course, to the joint communique for further details on today’s important dialogue. The United States strongly supports Iraq, and we recognize the importance of a successful and secure Iraq to the entire region.
MR PRICE: I don’t. We can look into that for you.
And today, we’re pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart the U.S. economic – U.S. economic, development, security, and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. It includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, 10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, and 150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief Works Agency, or UNRWA. All assistance, of course, will be provided consistent with U.S. law.
Assistance includes, among other things, support for small and medium enterprises’ recovery from the effects of COVID-19; support for needy households to access basic human needs, including food and clean water; and support for Palestinian civil society. A portion of this funding will support the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, as it continues to provide the necessary and life-saving treatments to Palestinians. This funding is in addition to the $15 million in humanitarian assistance to address COVID-19 pandemic and food insecurity that we announced last month.
U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinians serves important U.S. interests and values, including providing critical relief to those in need, fostering economic development, and supporting Israeli-Palestinian understanding, as well as security and stability in a volatile region. It aligns with the values and the interests of the United States as well as those of our allies and partners. The United States is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, of course, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution.
The United States encourages other donors to support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
So with that.
QUESTION: So I got two things, both on the Middle East, including – well, one on that. When you say that all this aid is going to be provided in – well, consistent with U.S. law, I’m curious as to how actually you’re going to do that.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Because U.S. law – there’s several of them – says that the U.S. cannot provide money to the Palestinian Authority, or – perhaps more importantly – money that would be fungible, that would be used for projects and programs that they – that a government would otherwise do as long as they continue to pay stipends to people convicted of anti-Israel or anti-U.S. attacks and their families. So how exactly are you going to square this?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Because as you’re aware, since reports about this have come out for a week or so, there have been growing opposition in Congress.
MR PRICE: Well, let me just start there. And I don’t want to characterize the reactions of individual members, but I think it is fair to say that we have been gratified by the reaction that we have heard from Congress on a bipartisan basis. Members of Congress, just as we do, recognize that the aid we announced today is consistent with our interests, it is consistent with our values, it is consistent with the interests of those in the region, to include Palestinians not only in the West Bank and Gaza but also in the broader region as well, as well as the interests of our Israeli partners.
Now, you asked about how we ensure that this aid is consistent with applicable U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act. I just want to underscore that —
QUESTION: And ATCA.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: And —
MR PRICE: And ATCA. And I just want to underscore that all of this aid is absolutely consistent with relevant U.S. law, including those two statutes. As we do around the world, we provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground, and it’s these partners who distribute directly to people in need, not through government or de facto government authorities. Our development partners in the West Bank and Gaza have aggressive risk mitigation systems in place aimed at ensuring just that – namely, that U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance is reaching those for whom it is intended: the women, the men, the children in need of lifesaving assistance.
Now, you asked about this fairly technical issue as to how we ensure that this aid is consistent with the Taylor Force Act —
QUESTION: Well —
MR PRICE: — and that it doesn’t directly —
QUESTION: Okay, fine, but I would not say that that’s “fairly technical.”
MR PRICE: No, no, no – well, I’m getting to a technical point.
QUESTION: You’re either breaking the law or you’re following the law. That’s not a technical —
MR PRICE: Well, it is – you’re right, it is very clear. We are following the law. Everything we are doing here is quite consistent with it, scrupulously so. But you did ask about how we ensure this doesn’t benefit —
MR PRICE: Directly benefit the Palestinian Authority, which is the relevant provision, and assistance considered as quote-unquote “directly benefiting” the PA is actually defined in the Department of State – defined by the Department of State and was transmitted to Congress in May of 2018. And in making this determination, we take several conditions into account, including the intended primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; whether the PA is the direct recipient of the assistance, of course; whether the assistance involves payments of Palestinian Authority creditors; the extent of ownership or control the PA exerts over an entity or an individual that is the primary beneficiary or end user of the assistance; and whether the assistance or, in some cases, the services provided directly replace assistance or services that the PA would otherwise provide.
So we take all of that scrupulously into account – not only Taylor Force, not only ATCA, every relevant statute – to ensure, again, that what we are doing is in service of our interests, our values, consistent with U.S. law, and betters the lives of the people in the region.
QUESTION: Okay. As it relates to the UNRWA assistance, the 150 million to UNRWA, the Israelis have already come out and said that they’re concerned about this, that they don’t think it’s a good idea because the – because UNRWA, they think, is – well, one, that it’s non-transparent and that it promotes anti-Israel activity; and then secondly, the previous secretary of state just before he left office really laid a – quite a harsh allegation against UNRWA, saying that there’re fewer than 200,000 refugees that it actually serves from 1948. So one, do you – or, well, one, when you say you take into consideration Congressional concerns, are you also taking into account Israeli concerns? And then secondly, are you repudiating former Secretary of State Pompeo’s criticism of UNRWA that it’s riddled with corruption and is not serving anywhere near the number of quote-unquote “real” refugees?
MR PRICE: Well, you asked about UNRWA. Let me just say one more word on the bilateral assistance we’re providing to the Palestinian people because it gets to your question about security, and that is, of course, that we have an enduring commitment to Israel’s security. It is a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East but also, beyond that, globally. Likewise, we are committed to advancing the safety and the security of the Palestinian people. As we said in a statement earlier this week, we believe that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of security, prosperity, and dignity.
Now, when it comes to U.S. security assistance, that has played a key role in strengthening Palestinian Authority security forces capable of or, in some cases, willing to partner with Israel to address regional instability. We expect that a key part of our security assistance going forward will be working to advance the rule of law in the West Bank for the benefit of all through the development of professional and accountable security and criminal justice institutions, institutions that, by the way, are able to maintain security and stability in the West Bank to uphold the rule of law, to contribute directly to regional security, and to protect the population. That is not only in the interests of the Palestinian people. That, of course, is in the interests of our Israeli partners.
And as you know or as you might have guessed, we have engaged at multiple levels repeatedly with our Israeli partners on these questions. Of course, it was noted in the recent readout of the call between Secretary Blinken and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Ashkenazi. I wouldn’t want to characterize any further those diplomatic conversations, but we do all of this, again, consistent with the interests and the values of this country.
QUESTION: You don’t have to characterize it because the Israelis have already come out and said they think it’s a bad idea. So – or so the reservations that Congress has about this and the opposition that Israel has about this doesn’t matter; is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are doing this consistent with the values and the interests of the United States and also with the interests of those in the region as well. You did ask about UNRWA —
QUESTION: Yes. Yes.
MR PRICE: — and concerns there, so let me just take a moment to note how seriously we take oversight of – our oversight role of UNRWA when it comes to UNRWA’s policies, programs, and finances. We take them extraordinary seriously. Got a long answer here.
QUESTION: You don’t really have to go on – you don’t have to drone on forever about it. But just, like, you are repudiating what the former administration thought about UNRWA? Do you still – do you believe, as the previous secretary of state did, that UNRWA serves a very, very small number of Palestinian refugees as opposed to what they claim to serve?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what the previous administration might have said or might have concluded. I am relaying here what this institution, what this secretary of state, what this administration, and what this building thinks and has concluded. And that is, again, that is that these steps and measures that we’ve announced today are consistent with our interests and our values.
I think the other point I would make is that even when the United States had stopped its support for UNRWA, the United States, and in this case the previous administration, did maintain a dialogue even in the absence of funding with UNRWA. By resuming this assistance today, not only do we have that dialogue, but we have a seat at the table. We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do. Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform. We will continue to be in a position, an even greater position to drive and to steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful with this step today.
QUESTION: Can I actually get you to elaborate on that? So you do think that UNRWA needs to be reformed. Can you identify in which areas? And also, by restoring this aid today, are you guys working towards restoring to the amount of $365 million, which was in 2017? Is that what you’re aiming for, and what’s the path to that look like? But don’t forget the first one I asked.
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the first one. It is absolutely the case that we are committed to closely engaging with UNRWA to uphold its neutrality, to promote human rights and tolerance and education, and to improve the agency’s effectiveness and sustainability, and we plan to do that in a few different ways. One, we plan to do that bilaterally with the agency, with UNRWA, to improve its transparency, accountability, and internal governance and oversight processes. And two, multilaterally to improve its sustainability over time.
The point I made before is absolutely a critical one. Even in the absence of the funding that the previous administration halted, we – in this case the previous administration maintained a dialogue with UNRWA. Now not only do we have a dialogue, but we have a seat at the table. We are able to help effect these reforms – these reforms that we think are necessary, these reforms that we think are important – in a manner that is much more – that will be much more effective going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on the Palestinians and one on Iraq. On the Palestinian issue, so would you say that any part of this money will go to support election in East Jerusalem since you value the democratic process? Number one. And number two, would you say that this money is trying to address a severe humanitarian need or also double as a carrot for the Palestinian Authority to come back to the negotiation table?
MR PRICE: This is – these are humanitarian steps when it comes to the humanitarian aid that we have announced today. The Secretary was speaking in a completely different context earlier this week when he said that we don’t trade shots in arms for political favors. But I think the broader principle is one that stands. This is consistent with who we are as a people. It also happens to be consistent with what is in our interest. And when we talk about the humanitarian funding that we are – I would – that we have announced today, it is to alleviate the – in many cases the humanitarian suffering that Palestinians have endured, whether it is in the West Bank, whether it’s in Gaza, or whether it’s in the broader region.
Now, when it comes to the question of elections, again, I would make the point that everything we are doing is going to be consistent with ATCA, it’s going to be consistent with the Taylor Force Act, and as we do around the world, we are providing this assistance through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground who in turn distribute that aid. Palestinian elections are a matter for the Palestinian people. I think I would leave it at that in terms of our announcement today.
QUESTION: Yes, I was just wondering if the Secretary or any official in this building has made sort of calls with the Palestinian officials ahead of today’s announcement. If not, when would they do that? And another question: Is there any update about the pledges to reopen the diplomatic – the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C.?
MR PRICE: Well, I would reiterate the point I have said before that we believe it is important for us to have a partnership with the Palestinian people and with Palestinian officials. I don’t have any calls to read out – I would imagine if Secretary Blinken had a call with his Palestinian counterpart, we would be in a position to read that out – nor do I have any calls to preview, but it is true that we have engaged extensively with stakeholders, including officials in the region, but I don’t have any details of that to read out.
Now, when it comes to the ways in which we will engage with the Palestinian people and Palestinian authorities, obviously today’s announcement, the announcement of funding on a bilateral basis for the Palestinian people and through UNRWA is an important element of that, but it is not the only way in which we intend to do that. But I just don’t have any announcements to preview at this time.
QUESTION: I don’t think you answered my first question.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) 365. Is that the aim that you’re going to eventually increase this? Is that where you’re going?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to – I’m – today we’re talking about a significant, a sizable, an ambitious announcement of funding. I don’t have anything to preview beyond today.
QUESTION: Did you have any comment that —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) this is the first tranche, because I know that the administrations have usually provided their UNRWA funding in trenches – tranches, whatever – leading up to the full amount. So you haven’t made a decision about whether you’re going to go back to that historic amount of (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I just don’t have anything to preview today. We are in April of 2021. Of course there are many months left in this fiscal year. But I just don’t have anything to preview today as to where we are heading.
QUESTION: But then I turn to the security assistance. That’s – is that like the 60 million extra that’s not part of the number that you put into this press release?
MR PRICE: We – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The security assistance.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: You said we’re also resuming vital security assistance programs. So that’s separate from the numbers that you have in this press release, right?
MR PRICE: We can – we can – if we have more details on exactly what that security assistance looked like – looks like in terms of numbers, we can let you know.
QUESTION: Did you guys ever have a response to the GAO report that found that USAID had not followed all of the – all of the requirements of the Taylor Force and ATCA laws in awarding not direct grantees but sub-grantees?
MR PRICE: Well, we are of course aware of the GAO report. We have welcomed the report. We take it, its findings, very seriously. It’s important to note that this GAO report found no cases of U.S. funding going to parties, providers on the ground who failed vetting. USAID is already taking steps to strengthen its existing, extensive antiterrorism procedures. I would also say that the funding we have announced today takes into account that report and our implementation of that funding has and will take into account what the GAO put forward. Again, the bottom line here is that this administration is firmly committing to – committed to ensuring that all U.S. assistance is provided in accordance with antiterrorism requirements and all U.S. laws, including the Taylor Force Act.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to switch to Latin America. Do you have any update on the trip that Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga is doing? He’s today in El Salvador. Is he meeting with the President Nayib Bukele or with the attorney general? And also on Latin America, my second question would be: Do you have anything about the elections that are happening in the coming days in Ecuador and Peru. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, Special Envoy Zuniga does remain in the region. He has been in Guatemala. I believe right now at the moment he is in El Salvador. Broadly speaking, he is in the region to meet with key stakeholders on our joint comprehensive efforts to address the root causes of migration in, from, and through the region, as well as the humanitarian efforts to expand access to protection for those in need.
We welcome Congressional interest and support for improving conditions in the Northern Triangle. It’s obviously a priority of this administration. The Vice President is playing a key role. This building, including in the form of Special Envoy Zuniga, is playing a key role. And we’re committed to our ongoing conversations with partners in the region. When we talk about partners in the region, yes, we’re talking about government officials, but we’re also talking about civil society and other stakeholders, recognizing that our approach to the Northern Triangle, our approach to address the root causes of migration, needs to be holistic. I don’t have any meetings to read out for you, but if that changes, we’d be happy to do so.
When it comes to elections in Ecuador and Peru, it’s my understanding that today our Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung tweeted about the upcoming election in Ecuador. She said that, “[We salute] the Ecuadorean people as they prepare to vote on Sunday. We look forward,” she continued, “to working with whomever they freely and fairly elect to strengthen democracy, increase security, and expand prosperity in Ecuador and the region.” The same, of course, is true when it comes to Peru. We support the people of Peru, we support the democracy and the democratic processes throughout the Western Hemisphere, including in Peru. And we look forward to working with whomever is elected in free and fair democratic elections.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on that, on the trip of the special envoy to El Salvador. What role do you envision for the government in El Salvador? What role does the U.S. Government want President Bukele to play in —
MR PRICE: Sorry, what role do we want —
QUESTION: Him to play in this plan for addressing the root causes of migration. What should the government do in El Salvador?
MR PRICE: Well, every government in the Northern Triangle has a role to play. This is not something we either seek to or that we could do unilaterally on our own. This is a strategy, a partnership. Again, it is partnership with governments, it is partnership with civil society, it is partnership with people.
Now, when it comes to the Government of El Salvador, we enjoy, as you know, strong relations with El Salvador and its people, and we’ll continue to work closely with our Salvadoran partners to address the challenges in the region. And that includes, as we’ve been talking about, irregular migration. It includes corruption and impunity, it includes governance challenges. It includes respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and security.
We’ll also continue to focus on preserving and promoting democratic standards, both in El Salvador and throughout the region. We’ll continue – and this is a broad point – to emphasize to all political leaders the importance of appropriate democratic institutions as we partner with them. And as I said before, we also engage civil society – groups that promote freedom of expression, independent media, protection of journalists as well.
So our goal in all of this is to create the conditions where people of El Salvador and the Northern Triangle more broadly can thrive, and that will require a partnership, a partnership with all of these relevant stakeholders.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) The Vice President’s office said that the administration is surging humanitarian assistance to the region. I know USAID announced a DART for the three Northern Triangle countries, but is there any update in terms of funding or new assistance that you’re actually providing?
MR PRICE: So we did. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Vice President in the first instance yesterday did announce the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, to respond to rising humanitarian needs in the Northern Triangle – in Guatemala, in Honduras, in El Salvador. The DART is working to mitigate the impact of these challenges that have posed such dire humanitarian implications for the people of the region. That includes recurrent drought, severe food insecurity, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the context of these communities that are in many cases still recovering from back-to-back hurricanes. The DART is focused on rapidly scaling up emergency food assistance; programs to help people earn an income, earn a sustainable living; protection for the most vulnerable; and other humanitarian programs.
USAID, I believe, is currently providing approximately $112 million in life-saving humanitarian aid to support this emergency food assistance, COVID-19 interventions, the response to the two hurricanes, Iota and Eta, and disaster risk reduction activities. Of that sum, USAID is providing 57 million in Guatemala, 47 million in Honduras, and nearly $10 million in El Salvador. And the DART, of course, will build on these programs to build and scale up these programs to reach those in desperate need even more quickly.
Now, the assistance I mentioned is in addition to nearly $85 million in humanitarian assistance from this institution, the State Department, in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in Fiscal Year 2019 to address the needs of refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, vulnerable migrants, other vulnerable populations.
QUESTION: But none of that is new money under this administration, correct?
MR PRICE: The amount I just mentioned is not, but these programs are in fact new. The ways in which we are seeking to provide this humanitarian relief are in fact —
QUESTION: And just one quick question: The special envoy said yesterday that the administration, the White House in particular, is working on creating legal paths for migration to the U.S. Do you have any more details on what exactly that looks like?
MR PRICE: I don’t. I’m – for that, I would refer you to the White House for that.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Latin America?
QUESTION: Can we go back to UNRWA just quickly?
MR PRICE: We’ll come back before the end, but —
QUESTION: Just a Latin – yeah. I mean, on Brazil, it’s now like the epicenter of the pandemic globally and its health minister last week basically said they’re pushing the U.S. to get an earlier delivery of some vaccine doses. So do you guys have any plans to deliver that to them a little bit earlier? Or are you considering to donate anything or loan anything given that their situation is really pretty bad?
MR PRICE: Well, we discussed this earlier in this week, of course, when Secretary Blinken announced Gayle Smith as our coordinator for global health and the COVID response. Right now, this administration is focused first and foremost on ensuring that Americans have access to the safe and effective vaccine. At the same time, we understand that for Americans to be truly safe from this virus both now and over the long term, we need to demonstrate leadership, because as long as the virus is in the wild, it will continue to mutate, it will continue to pose a threat to Americans back here at home.
Now, it is true that we have partnered with Brazil on this challenge. Brazil, of course, has experienced tremendous loss of life due to COVID-19, and vaccines are one part of must – what must be a broad, inclusive national strategies to combat the pandemic. Other preventative measures, including mask wearing, social distancing, and other behaviors are the world’s best solutions to this as well. But we have – we are aware of requests from foreign governments for assistance, including from Brazil. The U.S. embassy will make relevant announcements when there is any official request from the Government of Brazil, and we urge our Brazilian partners and local governments to coordinate requests for assistance through the Brazilian Foreign Ministry to ensure their integration into that national strategy.
QUESTION: Are you considering donating?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you considering —
MR PRICE: I don’t have any update for you right now. Obviously we have done a tremendous amount – $2 billion – through the COVAX facility, another $2 billion over time. We have spoken to our efforts in the context of the Quad, we have spoken to our efforts in the context of Canada and Mexico, but again, right now we are focused first and foremost on ensuring that Americans here in this country do have access to a safe and effective vaccine, and that will continue to be our priority.
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks, Ned. Guy Taylor from Washington Times.
MR PRICE: Hey, Guy.
QUESTION: How are you? Thanks for calling on us. Can I go to Asia just for a second and a somewhat specific question about the U.S.-Philippines relationship and these recent moves by China in the South China Sea? Over the past couple of days, the Philippines have been flying their warplanes over an area known as the Whitsun Reef, which is actually in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and there are about 200 Chinese vessels there that appear to be manned by this Chinese maritime militia. And they’ve been massing in an apparent attempt to take control of that reef or at least block the Philippines from accessing it. So my question is: Does the Biden administration continue to stand by what had been the Trump administration’s stated position, that the U.S. will regard any attack on any Philippines territory as covered under the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty?
MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Blinken actually spoke to this just a couple days ago. He said on March 28 that “United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC’s maritime militia amassing at [Whitsun Reef.]” He said, “We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.” As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. When it comes to this amassing, as the Secretary said, we share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported amassing of PRC maritime militia near Whitsun Reef, and we have seen the reports that vessels have also spread to other parts of the South China Sea. We have reiterated our strong support for the Philippines and we have called on the PRC to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award under the Law of the Sea Convention, which is final and legally binding on all parties.
In the back. Rich.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. When the World Health Organization came out with its COVID origins report, the U.S. and several other allies said in a statement that it wanted a transparent, independent analysis free from undue influence on the origins of the pandemic. Has there been any effort to achieve that and does the U.S. think that such an investigation should happen outside of the World Health Organization?
MR PRICE: Well, what is evident from our review of the report is that it lacks crucial data, it lacks information, and it lacks access. It represents a picture that is partial and, in our view, incomplete. That’s not just our view. Many other countries share that view. In fact, we signed on to a statement with 13 other countries. There were other multilateral statements that went out. Other countries issued their own statements. The concerns were collective, but also the vision is a collective one. It is a vision for a trusted, credible, and authoritative mechanism for swiftly and transparently investigating outbreaks of unknown origins. That is precisely what we said in the statement that we released. And so it was in that spirit that we urge the WHO to ensure that this second phase – and this is important because there is supposed to be a second phase – of this study commence without further delay, including in China, in a way, again, that respects and adheres to principles of transparency and openness, is driven by experts, and is free from interference, including political interference.
We also call on the WHO to re-evaluate the criteria and the terms of this process. Ultimately, we need to understand – and I’m using “we” collectively here – the international community needs to understand how this virus started not only so we have the full story of COVID-19, but so that we can learn lessons from COVID-19 that are applicable in this case and also in future cases. This is not about only the rear view mirror. It is about working to protect the American people and the international community going forward from public health threats like the one we have seen in the context of COVID-19.
QUESTION: Would the administration support an effort outside the WHO framework or does it believe the WHO is the right path?
MR PRICE: We believe the WHO has great potential. It has great value. Today I believe is actually World Health Day. And we have affirmed our belief in the potential of the WHO. We – that is why we have re-engaged with the WHO, knowing that when we have a seat at the table – and this applies to another context we have discussed today as well – we’re able to help drive institutions in a way that is productive, useful, and effective for our interests and for the collective interest. As I said before, there is supposed to be a second phase of this study and we encourage this phase to commence without further delay.
QUESTION: On the UNRWA I want to ask you, did you consult with regional countries on resuming the funding? And are you expecting them – since this is less than 30 percent of the – what the U.S. usually gives to the organization, are you expecting especially Gulf countries to fill in that gap? And if I can, on Iraq, the joint statement says technical talks will discuss redeployment of U.S. combat troops. Any idea how and when these talks would happen?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the humanitarian aid that we announced today, we did undertake extensive consultations, including with members of Congress, including with stakeholders in the region, and it is absolutely true that we encourage other donors to support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We have announced this aid today in the first instance because it’s consistent with our values and our interests. Of course, it’s consistent with what is right for the intended recipients of this, but we also know that when we act, we can have a catalytic effect. And so we certainly hope that other countries step up to the plate when it comes to funding for UNRWA and providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.
When it comes to the strategic dialogue and the question of U.S. troops in Iraq, the bottom line is that U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government. ISIS, of course, continues to pose a threat to Iraq as well as to our collective security. We are in close contact with coalition allies and partners regarding the continued importance of our shared mission to take on ISIS not only in Iraq and Syria, but whatever – wherever ISIS – wherever else ISIS may manifest. I’d also point you to statements recently released by the Global Coalition regarding our commitment to these efforts.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. You talked about the consequences of a Chinese attack on Philippine forces. How about Taiwan? China flew, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry, 15 more planes through Taiwan’s air defense ID zone today. Taiwan’s foreign minister reportedly said, “We will fight the war” and “defend ourselves” if necessary. Is there anything new you want to say to China, which seems to be continuing this – what looks like military harassment of Taiwan, if not potentially even stepping it up, despite the strong statement that you guys issued I think in January expressing rock-solid commitment to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s exactly it. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid. We think and we know that it contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region as well. We have, of course, taken note with great concern the pattern of ongoing PRC efforts and attempts to intimidate in the region, including in the context of Taiwan. In support of longstanding U.S. policy, again, as reflected in the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.
We’ll continue to work with allies and partners in support of our shared prosperity, our security, and our values in the Indo-Pacific region, and that includes with regard to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
MR PRICE: Let me take questions from someone who hasn’t asked one. Yes, yes.
QUESTION: Sure. We haven’t touched on Iran yet today. The talks in Vienna, can you give an update of what Rob Malley’s been up to? Yesterday, you were characterizing the talks among the other parties as constructive. Do you still have that sense that constructive things are happening in Vienna?
MR PRICE: Well, as we have said, and I think this is worth reiterating, these are early days, of course. We didn’t go into these discussions this week expecting any immediate breakthroughs. We recognize this to be potentially the start of a process, knowing that we do have a long – a potentially long road ahead. We’ve always said this will be hard, and I think that’s also worth underscoring. It will be hard for several reasons. It will be hard because of logistics. These talks are indirect, and as a result, the mechanics of them can be cumbersome. It will be hard because these are very technical and complex issues.
Again, these are not strategic talks, and that is in large part because the strategy, the desired strategic endpoint, is clear. It is what we have termed compliance for compliance. These talks, ongoing in Vienna, are about how we might get there. It will also be hard because – this goes without saying, but there is a fair amount of distrust between the United States and Iran, which is both – which is predicated both on events of recent years, but also, of course, a much longer history between our two countries and, for that matter, between Iran and the international community.
Now, I hasten to add that none of this isn’t anything that we potentially couldn’t overcome, but there will be challenges going forward. At the same time, and to your question, we continue to believe this is a constructive forum. The talks so far have been businesslike and they have – they are doing what we envisioned they would do. And again, they are affording us a better understanding of Iran’s thinking, and we hope that in turn, Tehran will leave this round of talks with a better understanding of what we might be prepared to do. The team on the ground in Vienna has had consultations with our European allies as well as with our Russian and Chinese partners. They in turn have met with the Iranian delegation. So in all of this, we have heard more about Iran’s position. Our partners have in turn heard from us more about our position, which they have then relayed to the Iranians. And in short, this is what we had hoped to accomplish at the outset, really nothing more and nothing less.
QUESTION: Can I – can I just say, yesterday you had said, in response to Andrea’s question about the FTO designation on the IRGC, you – I think I know what you meant, but I need to drill down a little bit on it. Do you – does the administration believe that terrorism sanctions that have – that were imposed by the last administration on Iran or human rights sanctions or missile – ballistic missile sanctions are inconsistent – your words – inconsistent with the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: Matt, what we are doing in Vienna right now is discussing —
QUESTION: Just – they’re not covered —
MR PRICE: — discussing how it is that Iran might resume its compliance with the JCPOA, knowing that it has taken steps away from that agreement over time, and how we in turn might be able to resume our own compliance with the JCPOA —
QUESTION: Right, but do you think —
MR PRICE: — which would require sanctions relief. Now, when it comes to that latter category of activity, the point I said yesterday remains. We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. I’m not in a position here to give you chapter and verse on what those might be. That is precisely why we have agreed to engage in diplomacy to this effect. The precise nature of any sanctions relief is the subject of diplomacy.
QUESTION: But look, both of us were, on different sides, involved with covering or being participating in the negotiations for the deal in the first place in 2015, right, you in the administration, me in this position right here. Terrorism sanctions, human rights sanctions, ballistic missile sanctions are not covered by the JCPOA. Are you saying that you’re prepared to lift those sanctions or some of them to get Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: What I —
QUESTION: — even though they are not a part – I mean, one of the big selling points, as you remember, and as you I think went out and said publicly, or at least on background from the NSC, was that the JCPOA did not prohibit any U.S. administration from imposing sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear related issues, for terrorism, for – is that still the – is that the position of this administration? Or do you think that in order to entice them, in order to lure them back into complying on their side, that you would or could be able to lift some non-nuclear sanctions?
MR PRICE: I’ll say a couple things. Number one, we are not and will not offer any unilateral gestures or incentives to sweeten any sort of deal or to induce Iran to – back to the negotiating table or to a better position at that negotiating table.
The second point I will say is that this administration is committed, working in many cases with our allies and partners, to holding Iran to account for precisely the offenses you listed: its human rights abuses, its support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program. When it comes to those areas, that is precisely why our strategy sees the mutual return to the JCPOA as necessary but insufficient, insufficient because we seek not only a longer and stronger deal, but over the longer term, working with partners in the region, follow-on agreements to address these very issues.
Now, we don’t need to arrive at those follow-on agreements for us to hold Iran to account for its behavior, because we will continue to do that right now. When it comes to sanctions, the point I made before remains. We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Can you say then that removing the FTO designation from the IRGC is not on the table here at all?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to characterize that. We are prepared to —
QUESTION: Well, that’s a —
MR PRICE: We are prepared —
QUESTION: That’s going to create —
MR PRICE: We are prepared to lift sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: I get the idea that you don’t want to negotiate from the podium, but the fact of the matter is is that the FTO designation was not in the JCPOA. Terrorism sanctions were not covered by it. So if you’re not willing to say that that’s not something that you’re —
MR PRICE: What I am willing to say is that we will absolutely hold Iran to account for its support for —
QUESTION: Last one. This will be a yes or no question. And it has nothing to do with Iran. Just on Russia, so the Russian deputy foreign minister said today that they’re prepared to send their ambassador back and have good conversations as long as you guys, as the administration signals any kind of interest in restoring ties to – is that something that you guys are prepared to consider at least, or do?
MR PRICE: What we have said is that, yes, we have profound disagreements with the Russian Federation. I have listed many of them, enumerated them on any number of occasions. I won’t do it now. But we’ve also said that what we want is a relationship with Moscow that is both stable and predictable, and we believe that diplomacy is an important tool to help us achieve a relationship that is both stable and predictable even as we continue to hold Moscow to account for the offenses that I have mentioned before.
MR PRICE: Let’s do Iran, and then I promise that we will end with you.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday this was asked to you, but it was too soon. It’s about that Iranian ship that was attacked in Red Sea. There’s reporting by some outlets that Israel actually has informed the United States that it has struck the vessel. Can you confirm, or can you share what the U.S. assessment is?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on Iraq. In the final communique, you mentioned the redeployment of troops out of Iraq as part of an agreement. What does it – does that mean the redeployment is going to be in the region? Because the headlines is already coming that the U.S. withdrawing troops from Iraq. And what’s the difference between withdrawing and redeploying?
MR PRICE: These are questions for the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: It – but it came from you. The communique came from the State Department.
MR PRICE: But the Department of Defense did take part in the strategic dialogue today, so these are questions that are best directed there. We talked about the global force posture review that Secretary Austin is now undertaking. I think the point that I would make from here, the point that I would reiterate from here, is that U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government for the sole purpose of supporting Iraqi forces in the campaign against ISIS, and of course, that campaign remains important and it remains ongoing.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:47 p.m.)
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